Bolivia is a country of extremes… a bit like marmite, you either love it or hate it. Below are my 5 best and worst of and Bolivia:
The Best Bits:
1) The Trufi is a shared taxi which costs just 30p for a half hour journey into town. It stops ANYWHERE you stick your hand out, so if you see it coming, you don’t have to run for the bus stop or risk a twisted ankle.
2) The Zebras – many crossings in central La Paz are monitored by real live dancing, prancing, jumping, Zebras (well, young people in stripey zebra suits) which stop the traffic in a comedic manner, both educating people on crossing the roads safely and alleviating any possibility of road rage.
3) The Colourfulness – Bolivians love showing their creativity in the form of colourful art, murals and graffiti in general. A breathtaking (literally) walk around the steep roads of La Paz reveals countless works of art adorning the walls. Not only this but local women (Cholitas) wear traditional colourful traditional clothing, as well as having some colourful personalities!
4) Cheapness – Yes, Bolivia is cheap. Its almost 11 Bolivianos to the Pound. A bus ride is 30p. A one hour taxi ride is around GBP10.00. A Nando’s size chicken meal is around GBP2.50 (and way tastier). An overnight 12-hour coach journey with fully reclining big comfy chairs is GBP15.00.
5) The Food! If you like Carbs, you will love the barrage of snacks presented to you at every corner, from crunchy Pasancalla (like popcorn but made with maize), to juicy salteñas (little yellow pasties filled with stew), to spongy Humintas (sweetcorn cake with cheese cooked in banana leaves) – see my post on Bolivian Bites for the low down on typical Bolivian food and drink.
1) The Cold – its boiling hot in the afternoon sun yet freezing cold in the morning and evening and in the shade (I don’t know why people bother having fridges, just stick it in the shade?!). If you go out for a sunny day in shorts and a vest and stay out late, you have to take really warm clothes for the evening with you (i.e. scarf, gloves, hat, coat). Not only this, but the water taps are all cold so when you wash your hands they turn to icicles. Nobody has central heating either, so wearing a coat indoors is completely normal. If you want the science behind this – its something to do with lower atmospheric pressure at high altitudes – which leads me to my next point…
2) The Altitude – seeing snowcapped mountains in the background is really awesome, but it also means you are quite high up (3,650m to be precise) … walking around La Paz can be hard work, the roads are steep and the air is thin, leaving you suddenly breathless and a little headachey at times. Its a strange sensation which feels a bit like your lungs might burst. Some people are affected and some not at all.
3) The Slowness – nobody is in a rush here.. food can often take over an hour to arrive at the table and then when you ask for the bill its another half an hour wait! This ties in with Bolivian lateness, if you make a plan with a Bolivian – dont expect them to be on time!
4) The Roads – the roads are far from perfect, with lots of potholes and bumps to make the journey uncomfortable.. road blocks are common and can delay journeys by hours. Seatbelts are not popular and its common (and actually acceptable) for drivers to ignore red lights if there is no traffic. To top it off there are hardly any road names so its easy to get lost. If you want to avoid the drama on the road, take the brand spanking new Teleferico (cable car) with stunning views of the city and Illampu, the 3 peaked snow-capped mountain overlooking La Paz.
5) The Food! If you are on a diet or are vegetarian, forget it! Carbs and Meat rule. Especially Pork, which is in the national dish (Fricasee). From Silpancho (flattened kebab style meat pictured below), to Chicharron (deep-fried chewy chunks of meat), everything has meat involved.